Battle of the Exes

Expression. Exclusion. Exercise. Experience. Exposure.

This whole journey began in earnest when George (n.c.i.) came out and expressed his (g.c.i.) need to express himself as a girl. A dramatic moment, years in the making, ultimately culminated by way of a complete social transition. In a matter of days, all signs of boy clothing were gone, hair was growing (but not quickly enough) and the second ear was pierced. Finally able to express herself (n.c.i.) Jessie was, in so many ways, freed. While not gone, the internal struggle took a leave of absence and the outward anxiety was less about fear of repercussion and more about looking pretty, being well dressed and, well, expressing her true self.

In tandem with Jessie’s freedom, Rich and I faced (but mostly feared) the exclusion we were sure to encounter. Already feeling socially, emotionally and financially marginalized as a result of the years of angst we’d lived through, we both knew that we had just wholeheartedly supported our child diving into a half full pool. Comfortable in our decision, we were not so naive as to not feel a deep, aching concern that Jessie was going to take a dive, hit the bottom and crack her neck all in the name of self-expression. We prepared ourselves for haters, naysayers and critics…none of whom we have encountered. Yet.

Our child’s needs, our rights, our minds and our bodies ached for exercise. Jessie, in a manner only a kid could pull off, boldly walked into a teacher’s classroom and spilled the beans one Monday morning. She exercised her option to change her name, her appearance and her place at school with an air of confidence that would bring most adults to their knees. Quickly summoned into the school to elaborate, Rich and I knew enough about our rights as a family to face the issue head on and establish, from moment one, a partnership with the school administration which has, as of this writing, been an incredible (in every conceivable meaning of the word) experience. As the frenzied days slowed to a new normal, our minds and bodies risked becoming, in short order, overwrought, depleted and flabby. We bought up every book we could find on the subject (a particularly good one, considered “the bible” on this subject, is “The Transgender Child a Handbook for Families and Professionals” by Stephanie Brill & Rachel Pepper), tore up the internet with searches ranging from “transgender” to “is my kid transgender” to “how do we know if George is really a girl and needs to follow this feeling or is it something else, or a phase or oh my God, what do we do now?”. Some felt like exercises in little other than futility, while others proved a bit more helpful. So, when our minds were fried, off we went to the gym. Rich would run for miles on a treadmill and I (with lingering and infuriating remnants of the back that betrayed me) would walk in circles at the track for seventy-five minute stretches (the symbolism of each of us going like hell yet getting nowhere was not lost on us)in a somewhat vain attempt to clear our heads. Some days were decidedly more effective than others, yet we carried on.

The experience has been, well, an experience. At the beginning of all of this, a friend commented to me that this was going to be a journey as opposed to an event. Knowing full well what she meant, and agreeing with the basic sentiment, I broke it down a bit more in my mind as not only a journey, but a whole huge series of events and experiences…each completed unchartered. Oh, they have been chartered by some, but not by anyone I ever knew personally and only publicly (and eerily recently) by Chaz Bono who, by dint of being born to celebrities, in his early 40’s and having grown up on “The Sonny and Cher Show” had experienced things differently than we were going to. Nevertheless, his experience became a bit of a starting point for me and, I admit, I did read “Transition” until I couldn’t tolerate it any more — about halfway through. My reason for intolerance was twofold: it somehow bored me (perhaps that was because he was talking about things I had lived through already?) and, it felt like too much exposure.

And that is where I am now. Fearing being exposed. Ironic given my prolific writing on this subject (and trust me, a topic of great discussion with my therapist. Whom I love, by the way), right? The dictionary definition of exposed is “left or being without shelter or protection” which is, actually, not how I feel. To the contrary, I feel tremendous support from friends, acquaintances and strangers (granted, the “strangers” are all no more than two degrees of separation from folks squarely in my safety net) yet what if I have shared my candor, my fears and my journey and it all blows up in my, or worse, Jessie’s, face? What if, what if, what if. Is this all a dream – I mean, really, how crazyass is this whole thing? Is that which seems to appeal to people (my being so out there) in fact an error in judgement? Is there something to be said for going underground with this expression, this exclusion, this exercise, this experience? Or am I achieving what I aim for — doing right by my kid?


14 thoughts on “Battle of the Exes

  1. I think that life is all about what if. We make choices, for reasons that only we understand, and every choice is made by saying What if.
    I sometimes have to push myself into a corner and say What if I don’t? That usually gets me the answer I am looking for.

  2. You’re doing great for Jessie and many others as well. Parenting always poses more questions than answers and the courage to address a particularly difficult one is laudatory as well as compassionate.
    I’m so proud of you and your whole family.
    I love you.

  3. I think as a parent we are always second guessing the things we do or do not do for our kids. One thing I have learned is you have to be honest with your kids and yourself. If you can do that the rest falls in to place. We all ask “what if?” All I can say is What if….more people were as strong and amazing as you and your family? The world would be a better place. There will always be haters…I say screw them!

    Love you and your family!

  4. Julie, I think one of the reasons that you’ve experienced such a positive response is because of your candor in writing. You’ve put it all on the table leaving nothing out there to become food for rumors and gossip mongers. The story of your journey with Jessie is so heartfelt and extraordinarily written that it would need to be a real “hater” on this topic to respond in a negative way. I hope that your families interaction with this type is limited but unfortunately they’re out there, as you know. Keep writing! We’re all learning from you as you document how this journey is unfolding for your family. Most of all, at least for me, I appreciate being allowed to share this with you. Really, it’s been so wonderful to know that there is such love and unselfishness in this world and to think they only live around the corner!!

    • Perhaps, when the time comes to sell our house, I will add to the list of amenities: right around the corner from Joyce. Love the support!

  5. I don’t think going underground is ever a good option. For what purpose? To feel more isolated than you already say you do?

    Here’s the thing about Jessie’s journey – the people you know, already know and those you don’t know – who cares what they think?

    Someday soon you will wake up and realize that this is your new normal – that everything is different but everything is the same. And it is OK. And so are you.

    • Yeah, Levinsons were never big on the underground…for better or worse, we are out there. And you are right, everyday there are things that would have been unimaginable in the past which are now, well, normal. xo

  6. Julie,
    Thank you for inviting us into your world and trusting (or hoping) that we would understand, except and embrace all that goes into you, your family and especially Jessie. Life is complicated. We say it is like being on Mr. Toads Wild Ride everyday! I look forward to our girls getting to know each other and sharing their stories. They are both special girls who were meant to meet!
    Luckily they brought us along for the ride!

    • They absolutely were meant to meet! And I am so glad that my read on you was correct and that you responded so kindly, compassionately and naturally. You will always be “the gymnastics mom who got it” in my heart!

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